Deputy Assistant Attorney General Arun G. Rao Delivers Remarks at the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society’s Distinguished Speaker Series
The Department of Justice has announced today that Gerber Legendary Blades, a division of Fiskars Brands Inc., of Madison, Wisconsin, has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $2.6 million to settle allegations that it knowingly failed to immediately report to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) a safety hazard associated with Fiskars’ Gator Combo Axe. Fiskars has also agreed to establish and maintain a compliance program with internal recordkeeping and monitoring systems to keep track of information about product safety hazards. The settlement agreement is awaiting judicial approval.
“Fiskars received numerous reports from consumers who were harmed by this product,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The company had an obligation to immediately report to the CPSC and it failed to do so. We will take action against those who fail to abide by the law so that our partners at the CPSC can protect consumers from injuries.”
The Axe was a combination product that had a knife embedded in its handle that was supposed to be secured by two small magnets. In a complaint filed on behalf of the CPSC in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, the United States alleged that Fiskars became aware that the knife in the Axe handle could and did dislodge from the Axe’s handle when the Axe was in use, causing serious injuries to consumers. Fiskars imported approximately 103,000 Axes from Taiwan through its Gerber Legendary Blades division in Portland, and distributed those Axes to retail sporting good chains and stores throughout the United States.
“CPSC’s job is to protect consumers,” said Chairman Elliot F. Kaye. “The sooner a firm informs CPSC about incidents or injuries with defective products, the quicker we can act to protect the American public. Failure to report in a timely basis is not only illegal, it can endanger consumer safety. We will not tolerate such irresponsible and dangerous behavior.”
Under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), manufacturers, distributors and retailers are required to report product hazards to the CPSC. A knowing violation of the CPSA subjects a firm to civil penalties. The United States alleged that beginning as early as 2005 and continuing over the next several years, Fiskars received consumer complaints and warranty claims indicating that the knife fell out of the Axe handle while the Axe was being used to chop, pound or hammer. In several instances, the knife dislodged from the handle during use and caused injuries including lacerations requiring stitches, permanent nerve damage and surgery to repair severed tendons.
“In this case, Fiskar's failure to report to the CPSC not only put consumers at risk, it contributed to people being injured as a result of the unsafe product design,” said U.S. Attorney S. Amanda Marshall for the District of Oregon. “The settlement not only addresses the product safety issue, but also holds the company accountable and sends a message to others that these violations will be taken seriously.”
In March 2011, Gerber and the CPSC announced a voluntary recall of the Axe. At that time, consumers were advised to remove the knife from the axe handle and contact Gerber to receive a free handle cap for holding the knife in the axe handle during transport and storage, instructions and a warning label. Information on the recall can be found on the CSPC website.
The matter is being handled by Trial Attorney Roger Gural of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil J. Evans for the District of Oregon and Harriet Kerwin of the CPSC Office of the General Counsel.
In agreeing to settle this matter, Fiskars has not admitted that it knowingly violated the CPSA.